Pavelski, Couture Lead Sharks into Playoffs

Martin Havlat (9) Congratulates Raffi Torres (13) as his power play goal gives the Sharks an early lead. The Sharks would go on to defeat the Dallas Stars 3-2 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA. (Mandatory Credit: Canadian Press)

8 + 39 + 31 = Post Season: Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture scored two goals within 30 seconds of each other with just over five minutes remaining in the third period, giving the San Jose Sharks a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars. The win for team teal not only broke a season long hex against the Stars, but also allowed the Sharks to clinch their ninth consecutive post season birth. Antti Niemi made 24 saves as the Sharks spent most of the game trailing by a goal largely because of some uncharacteristic penalties late in the first period which gave the Stars a multitude of scoring chances in a short timespan. Kari Lethonen was by far the best Dallas Star on the ice making 34 saves and keeping team teal at bay for most of the evening. Couture was the first star of the game and not only scored what proved to be the game winning goal, but also may have made the Sharks defensive play of the game diving in front of a final shot attempt by Ryan Garbutt as time was expiring.

The Sharks with the win also gain ground on the Los Angeles Kings who lost earlier in the evening to the Minnesota Wild. The Sharks also kept pace and a point ahead of the St Louis Blues for the fifth spot in the Western Conference as the Blues had earlier won their game against Colorado. The Sharks will soon know where they will seed and who they will face in the first round of the playoffs which start April 30th. The Sharks close out the regular season on the road with a game at Phoenix Wednesday night, and then the Regular Season Finale in Los Angeles against the rival Kings Saturday night. The Sharks still have a chance at the 4th seed should they overtake the Kings in the standings Wednesday evening.

Star Stuck- The Dallas Stars have been without any doubt the second biggest thorn in the side this season to team teal (the top honor has to go to Columbus). The Sharks had the jump on the Stars early and had several more than decent scoring chances arise during a power play caused by a Dallas bench minor. Lethonen however was very locked in as the Stars managed to dodge the Sharks early scoring chances. Close range shots on goal by Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Pavelski and Couture just could not find their mark. Later in the period the Sharks would get a second chance on the power play when Cody Eakin would draw an interference call. Raffi Torres would come through for the Sharks with a power play goal. With team teal pushing the puck up ice they would benefit from a nice feed pass by Scott Gomez who hit Torres in stride. Torres from their flicked the puck past Lethonen to give the Sharks the lead. The Sharks in the first half of the period seemed to have the forecheck working well.

The 1-0 lead though lasted about as long as a snowball in Palm Springs in July. Over a minute and a half later the Stars would catch the Sharks virtually a man down as Brad Stuart had lost his stick on defense. Scott Hannan seemed to have Antoine Roussel covered. However Roussel was able to somehow get just enough of his stick on the lose puck and slap it past Niemi. Roussel was the first man to the rubber biscuit after Eakin’s slap shot from near the right point was saved by Niemi. However Niemi could not control the rebound. Late in the period the Sharks would find themselves getting in penalty trouble as consecutive penalties were called. First, Hannan was whistled for a rare elbowing call. With the Sharks a man down on the penalty kill, Stuart would then get called for interference giving the Stars a 1:21 full on five on three advantage.

The Sharks penalty kill did tremendous work on the two men disadvantage. In fact, Justin Braun even had a short handed scoring chance that forced Lethonen to make a save. As the first period ended with the Sharks trying to kill off the remainder of Stuart’s penalty, Mark Edouard-Vlasic would get called for a slash as the first period ended. The Sharks would start the second period down two men once again. This time team teal  would not be as fortunate as Sharks’ nemesis Loui Eriksson would hammer the puck past Niemi following up a slap shot by former Shark Ray Whitney 17 seconds into the second period.

Lethonen Leads From The Net- With the Stars up one goal over the Sharks, Dallas goalie Lethonen would all but take over the game as he turned in a fairly amazing performance. The Sharks were able to get more than enough pucks on net and had almost twice as many scoring opportunities as did their Texas counterparts. However the puck to Lethonen Tuesday night may have looked more like a beachball as he would come up with key saves though the majority of the evening. In the second period the Sharks would put 11 shots on Lethonen only to see him make the equal amount of saves. The Sharks seemingly could do almost anything on offense except to score a goal. Vlasic had a point blank attempt denied by the Stars net minder. Later in the period Thornton was also denied along with Andrew Desjardins. The one puck that Lethonen could not get to came off the stick of Marleau. Just before the puck could cross the goal line, Trevor Daley made one of the defensive plays of the season batting the puck away from the goal in mid air. Lethonen was spot on and would continue to frustrate the Sharks well into the final period.

A Wild Third- The Sharks if nothing else were determined not to concede points in the standings without at least battling for it. Much of the final period was the Sharks again dealing with Lethonen’s hot goal tending. Pavelski and Dan Boyle has some decent looks only to be turned away. Stuart meanwhile came close early in the third period with a shot that hit the right goal post. On the other side of the rink Niemi was doing his letter best to keep the Sharks within striking distance with some key saves of his own including an early scoring attempt from Jamie Benn.

Late in the period with the Sharks battling the Stars for the puck on the Dallas defensive end, Thornton was able to get the puck over to Stuart. From the left point Stuart drilled a slap shot that would deflect of Palveski’s stick and get past Lethonen to tie the game. Just seconds later the Sharks forecheck came alive and would pay quick dividends. Braun drilled the puck towards Marleau who was in front of the Stars net. Marleau scoring attempt hit Lethonen’s leg pads and bounced over to a wide open Couture who buried the rebound to bring down the house of over 17,000. The Sharks were finally leading again with just over five minutes remaining. Team teal from there had the task of making sure the lead would stand up and it did despite the Stars desperate charge as time was winding down. Couture’s diving block of Garbutt’s shot attempt punctuated team teal’s hard fought, hard earned victory which stamped their ticket to the post season.

Shark Bytes- The three stars of the game were 3) Dan Boyle 2) Joe Pavelski 1) Logan Couture. Despite the abbreviated season and all the turmoil of the lockout, the Sharks still sold out every home game this season. The Sharks for the season were 1-2-1 against the Stars. Next season the Stars will remain in the Western Conference however are being moved out of the Pacific Division because of realignment. Jason Demers was out of this game with an lower body injury.

Next Sharks Game- The Sharks will be traveling back to the Valley of the Sun Wednesday night to take on the Phoenix Coyotes, who are all but mathematically eliminated from the post season. The puck drop is 7pm PT. The Sharks will be still looking to accumulate points as they lose any tie breaker with the LA Kings who are playing a desperate Red Wings team in Detroit.

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